I am currently a junior Social Entrepreneur major at Belmont University, which is located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee. Being the music capitol of the United States, I originally planned on pursuing audio engineering as a career. As I began my studies, I realised that my passions did not align with my major and it was time to find a new track for my life. This is when I fell in love with the concept of social entrepreneurship. I decided to heavily immerse myself within a poverty stricken culture in order to really learn and develop my understanding of the developing world. This is when I found Projects abroad.
Ever since I took a class on Muhammad Yunus, I fell in love with the concept of Micro-finance. Muhammad Yunus is the grandfather of social entrepreneurship and practically invented the concept of micro-finance and micro-credit through the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.
My placement abroad
Upon my arrival in Tanzania, I immediately began work on my Micro-finance project. This project is very different from most other projects, because volunteers are given the opportunity of going into the field and making some sort of sustainable change. As a Micro-finance volunteer, I was more than just an observer; I was an important and vital part to the livelihoods of the women we worked with.
With this project, our team worked with 40-50 illiterate women who owned small businesses or were looking to start small businesses. Some of the businesses we worked with included small soda shops, boutiques, salons, textile shops, farms, jewellery, etc. On an average, these women were given anywhere from 50 USD to 300 USD in loans to help fund their business ventures, which they paid back in small increments over an allocated period of time. Once of my favourite parts of this project was seeing sustainable change through the micro-loans that Projects Abroad provided for these women.
When I first arrived to Tanzania I was one of two volunteers on this project. At that time since there was not a lot of help, we tried to focus more on recording some data of the women. We first started with recording their skill levels on maths and English literacy. These two skills are the most basic and most necessary skills that these women needed. In my first month of this project we would do different lessons on book keeping and simple English words, which really boosted the women’s ability to understand and comprehend the way their businesses functioned, as well as be able to talk to customers in a more appropriate business manner.
As these skills improved among most of the women, we moved onto work on some more applicable skills like marketing and business planning. Marketing is essential to these women because most of their businesses are not innovative; instead they just copy other people’s ideas from down the street. This was a huge problem that we as a team had to deal with. We encouraged the women to find ways of product differentiation, which seemed to be incredibly helpful to their businesses.
Along with this, we also did a lot of business counselling, which is when we visited the women’s individual businesses in order to give them some ways to improve their businesses for the future. Overall I absolutely loved the Micro-finance project. It was an incredibly hands on project which not only allowed me to help women in need, but it also helped me learn and grow as an individual in my abilities.
Host family experience
If there were one thing that I would not change about my time in Tanzania it would be the host family placement. I was kind of nervous about living with a local host family before travelling to Tanzania, but now that I look back on it, it was the most beneficial experience to my time abroad.
My host mother Bebe was a native Tanzanian, but ironically went to university about 30 minutes away from my home in the US and my host father Joseph was a doctor who practiced in Germany for 15 years and since has moved back to Tanzanian to improve the health care system. They had nine children, all of whom were adults and had their own families. They had two teenage girls living with them (Rener and Elizabeth) who helped do all of the cooking and cleaning as well as an 18-month-old baby.
My host family was incredible! They not only taught me about the Tanzanian culture, but they broadened my perspective on everything. They also invited me to experience some different cultural things such as festivals and weddings, which I would not have had the opportunity if it were not for them.
Projects Abroad staff
From the moment I landed at Kilimanjaro airport, Projects Abroad staff welcomed me. Since I was in the Micro-finance project, I dealt with the staff on a daily basis. They were always incredibly helpful with any issues or concerns that I had with my project or just my general experience in Tanzania. I would encourage any volunteer to really get to know the Projects Abroad staff because they are an amazing resource, which I felt like furthered my experience in Tanzania.
As I sit here in the United States, I think about my time in Tanzania and just remember how incredible of an experience it was. From the volunteer relationships, to the relationships with the women I worked with, I cherish every single moment of it and hope that someday I can return.